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HS football previews: Week 8
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Game of the Week: Buford travels to White County in 7-AAA battle

Winder-Barrow at Flowery Branch

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Falcon Field, Flowery Branch

Coaches: Winder-Barrow, David Wagner; Flowery Branch, Chris Griffin

Records: Winder-Barrow (0-5, 0-3 Region 8-AAAAA); Flowery Branch (4-2, 4-0)

Key players: Winder-Barrow, RB Chad Platt (5-6, 169 Sr.), QB Christian Hodge (Jr.), DB Bradyn Randall (6-2, 170 So.). Flowery Branch, RB Justin Curry (5-11, 180 So.), LB Jacob Allen (6-1, 237 Sr.), QB Jackson McDonald (5-11, 172 Jr.).

Outlook: On paper this game shouldn’t be much of a challenge for the Falcons, but thanks to their final three opponents — Heritage, Clarke Central and Gainesville — it’s also a must win.

And the Bulldoggs, currently on a 29-game losing streak, have a history of playing better teams close, including a 22-20 loss to Salem this season, and a pair of close losses to Heritage the last two seasons.

Platt is the top weapon for Winder-Barrow. Last week in a 37-12 loss to Heritage, he had over 200 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns.

Flowery Branch, which has averaged 29.7 points and 265 yards per game — nearly 240 on the ground — has a number of weapons on offense. Curry is second in the area with 752 yards rushing and five touchdowns, McDonald has 404 yards rushing and eight touchdowns to go along with 734 yards passing at a 65 percent completion rate and eight more scores. Senior Jamaad Stephens leads the receiving corps with 265 yards and three touchdowns.

Prediction: FLOWERY BRANCH. The Falcons have held their last three opponents to 20 points or less, while Winder-Barrow has only scored as many as 20 points once this season.

Gainesville at Salem

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Evans Stadium, Conyers

Coaches: Gainesville, Bruce Miller; Salem, John Starr

Radio: 1240-AM

Records: Gainesville (5-1, 4-0 Region 8-AAAAA); Salem (2-4, 1-3).

Key players: Gainesville, QB Deshaun Watson (6-3, 195 Jr.); LB Devan Stringer (5-11, 180 Jr.); WR Rodney Lackey (5-10, 160 Jr.). Salem, QB/S Damian Gordon (Sr.), S Licash Lackey (Jr.), LB/RB Ahmad Mitchell (5-6, 168 Sr.).

Outlook: With their two toughest region games looming, the Red Elephants don’t want to look past the Seminoles in the race for the Region 8-AAAAA title. Gainesville controls its own destiny in pursuit of its fifth consecutive region championship, even though Flowery Branch and Clarke Central are both still perfect in region, and with head-to-head matchups still to be played.

The Red Elephants continue to have the area’s best offense in points per game (44) and yards per game (450.7). Watson is continuing to rack up the yards, currently with an area-best 1,657 passing yards and 20 touchdowns. His passes are spread around to Lackey (518 yards, second in the area), Lahius Leverette (342 yards, third in the area) and Caleb Hayman (282 yards, fourth in the area).

Watson also continues to lead Gainesville in rushing (521 yards, 10 touchdowns).

Stringer is continuing his fantastic season for the Red Elephants, currently tied for the area lead with 75 stops (four for a loss). While scoring 44 points per outing, the Gainesville defense is giving up just 17 points per game.

Meanwhile, Salem has struggled in region competition. The Seminoles barely got past winless Winder-Barrow 22-20, then were handled easily by Flowery Branch (35-17) and last week lost to Clarke Central 37-0. Because of ejection in last week’s game, the Seminoles will be without seven players this week.

Salem must win tonight to keep any hope of making the postseason alive.

Prediction: GAINESVILLE. The Red Elephants’ high-octane offense will roll past the Seminoles.

Fannin County at North Hall

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Brickyard

Coaches: Fannin County, Greg Chambers; North Hall, Bob Christmas

Records: Fannin County (1-4, 1-1 Region 7-AAA); North Hall (4-1, 2-0)

Key players: Fannin County, RB Peyton Satterfield (6-2, 190 Jr.), QB Trevor Stone (6-1, 200 Jr.), WR Noah O’Neal (6-2, 180 Jr.). North Hall, RB/OLB Kevin Christmas (5-8, 170 Sr.), RB T.J. Tate (5-8, 165 Sr.); QB/DB Andrew Smith (5-8, 145 Jr.)

Outlook: The Trojans have hit a comfortable stride in the running game. More importantly, North Hall has jumped out to a 2-0 start in region games.

For the second time this season, the Trojans posted 398 rushing yards, in a 60-12 win against East Hall last Friday. The first time this season North Hall rushed for 398 yards was three weeks prior in its only loss against Jefferson, 27-21.

Just as impressive as the cumulative total is the fact that North Hall is running the ball at an average of 6.8 yards a clip. For the season, the Trojans have carried the ball 258 times for 1,756 yards.

Now North Hall has two of the area’s top 10 rushers, led by Christmas (433 yards, three touchdowns) and followed closely by Tate (398 yards, nine touchdowns).

Meanwhile, Fannin County needs a win to stay in the conversation for the playoff hunt in 7-AAA. Even though the Rebels dropped their first four in nonregion play, they put it together to win the region opener against West Hall 31-8 two weeks ago. Fannin County was held below 10 points in losses to Gilmer and Union County, but scored 28 in a loss to White County and 31 against the Spartans.

Tonight’s game is important to the order in Region 7-AAA. If North Hall wins and White County falls to Buford, that would leave the Trojans and Wolves alone as the top two in the region. North Hall faces Buford the final night of the regular season at Tom Riden Stadium.

With one loss, North Hall already owns head-to-head advantage against Dawson County, which is 2-1 in region play.

Prediction: NORTH HALL. It’s tough to stop a team that’s churning out the rushing yards like the Trojans.

Walnut Grove at Chestatee

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: War Eagle Stadium, Gainesville

Radio: 102.9-FM, 1330-AM

Coaches: Walnut Grove, O.J. Soto; Chestatee, Stan Luttrell

Records: Walnut Grove (1-4, 0-2 Region 8-AAAA); Chestatee (4-1, 2-0)

Key players: Walnut Grove, QB Joey March (6-1, 175), RB Deleon Rivers (5-6, 170 So.), WR/CB Demarghaiy Conner (6-1, 180 Jr.). Chestatee, RB Quan Clark (5-10, 188 Sr.), RB A.J. Sijiye (5-11, 150 So.), QB Jordan Degraff (6-0, 155 Sr.).

Outlook: The War Eagles have already passed two of their stiffest tests in the region this year, defeating playoff contenders Stephens County and Eastside.

Today will be a bit of different test; living up to heightened expectations and taking care of a team that will be, at least on paper, a big underdog against Chestatee.

Walnut Grove has struggled this season, primarily on offense where they have scored 20 points just once, in a 41-point loss to Stephens County. It is a balanced attack, with the Warriors having racked up a total of 507 yards passing (led by March, who is 41 for 82 and four touchdowns and has accounted for all of the passing yards) and 559 yards rushing (led by Rivers with 91 carries for 441 yards and five touchdowns). Conner has 307 yards receiving and two scores, along with 18 tackles and two interceptions on defense.

The War Eagles haven’t been unbreakable on defense this season, but they’ve been at times unstoppable on offense, averaging 35.8 points per game. The unit is led by Clark (third in the area with 713 yards rushing and six touchdowns), while Degraff and Sijiye also have over 300 yards rushing each for an offense that averages 310 rushing yards per game.

Prediction: CHESTATEE. The War Eagles have already beaten two of the region’s top teams, and the Warriors have struggled.

Lakeview Academyat Cross Keys

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: North DeKalb Stadium, Chamblee

Coaches: Lakeview Academy, Matthew Gruhn; Cross Keys, David Radford

Records: Lakeview Academy (2-2), Cross Keys (0-5)

Key players: Lakeview Academy, QB Ted Reynolds (6-1, 160 Sr.); RB/LB Trevor Price (5-10, 165 Sr.); WR/DB John Cox (6-0, 180 Sr.); Cross Keys, LB Ashantre Davis (6-0, 180 Sr.); QB Tony Adenayo (5-9, 140 Jr.); Patrick Huff (5-7, 160 Jr.).

Outlook: The Lions have an excellent chance of getting back above .500 after a disappointing 21-6 loss to Athens Academy on Sept. 28. Despite the slow night, Price scored for the Lions on a 29-yard run late in the contest.

Caleb Faulkner is Lakeview’s leading rusher with 371 yards and five scores, while Reynolds is at 301 yards rushing.

Meanwhile, Cross Keys has started to find a touch of offense after going scoreless in its first three outings. Last week, the Indians lost 48-24 to St. Francis.

Leading Cross Keys offensively is Adenayo at quarterback with 548 yards. Huff is the team’s leading tackler with 50.

Cross Keys is a program that has traditionally struggled. The Indians last posted a winning season in 1994 (8-2), but have finished winless five times since then. In 2009, Cross Keys went 0-7 in region play, and have played a nonregion schedule since.

Prediction: LAKEVIEW. The Lions are motivated to get back above .500 and pull out a big win on the road.

Jefferson at Rabun County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Frank Snyder Stadium, Tiger

Coaches: Jefferson, T. McFerrin; Rabun County, Lee Shaw

Records: Jefferson (4-1, 2-0 Region 8-AA); Rabun County (4-1, 2-0)

Key players: Jefferson, QB Bryant Shirreffs (6-2, 215 Sr.), LB Kody McDonald (5-11, 165 Sr.), LB Wesley Simonton (6-0, 205 Sr.). Rabun County, QB Wes Holcombe (6-0, 175 Jr.), WR/S Charlie Woerner (6-4, 190 Fr.), LB Hunter O’Shields (5-10, 190 Sr.).

Outlook: For the second straight week, Jefferson heads to the field with first place in Region 8-AA at stake. Last Friday, the Dragons upset then-No. 7 Washington-Wilkes and assumed the role of top dog in the region. Now at No. 9 in Class AA, Jefferson faces an upstart Rabun County team off to its best start since 1999.

Shaw, the former Flowery Branch coach, has wasted no time making an impact at his alma mater. In his first season with the Wildcats, Rabun County has scored 40 points three times in a season for the first time since 2000 — prior to this year the Wildcats hadn’t scored 40 in a game since 2006.

Holcombe leads the balanced attack, which averages 188 rushing yards and 175.6 passing yards per game. The junior quarterback leads the team with 814 passing yards, 349 rushing yards and 12 total touchdowns.

Jefferson is similar in that regard. The Dragons average 354.8 yards per game with a near even split between rushing and passing. Shirreffs is the leader on the ground (336 rushing yards) and through the air (823 passing yards), and has accounted for 11 total touchdowns.

Despite giving up big yards on the ground against Commerce and North Hall, the Dragons have also been strong on defense. They shut out Washington-Wilkes last week and rank third in the area with 15 points allowed per game.

Prediction: JEFFERSON. Rabun County looks like a legitimate playoff contender, but the Dragons have their eyes set on a region title.

Prince Avenue Christian at Commerce

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Ray Lamb Stadium, Commerce

Coaches: Prince Avenue Christian, Mark Farriba; Commerce, Marvin Justice

Records: Prince Avenue Christian (5-1, 1-1 Region 8-A); Commerce (4-2, 0-2 Region 8-A)

Key players: Prince Avenue Christian, RB Carl Mattox (5-11, 185 Sr.), G/LB Sam Kennon (5-10, 204 Sr.), DE Tyler Parrish (6-1, 230 Sr.). Commerce, OL/LB Chance McClure (6-1, 215 Jr.), RB Jamal Browner (6-0, 220 Sr.), OL/DL Micah Eason (6-2, 240 Sr.).

Outlook: After winning four straight to open the season, Commerce has lost back-to-back games. Making matters more difficult for the Tigers, tonight they’ll host eighth-ranked Prince Avenue, and they may have to do it without their starting quarterback.

Junior signal caller Drew Whitfield missed last week’s game, a 19-14 loss to Athens Christian, and may be out for an extended period of time after being diagnosed with mononucleosis.

Through the first five games of the year, Whitfield rushed for 348 yards and six touchdowns. In his absence, the Tigers will look for more production from Browner, Quay Little and Terrick Ramsey; each have rushed for more than 400 yards this season.

Prince Avenue enters tonight’s game coming off a 14-7 loss to No. 4 Athens Academy. Prior to their first loss of the season, the Wolverines were ranked second in Class A and were averaging 42.2 points per game.

Mattox leads the Prince Avenue offense, and fellow running back Conner Sibley scored the team’s only touchdown last week. Despite the loss, the Wolverine defense remains stout, giving up only 9.8 points per game.

Prediction: PRINCE AVENUE. The Wolverine defense is especially strong against the run.

Riverside Military at Union County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Mike Colwell Memorial Stadium, Blairsville

Coaches: Riverside Military, Gary Downs; Union County, Brian Allison

Records: Riverside Military (0-5, 0-3 Region 8-AA); Union County (4-1, 1-1)

Key players: Riverside Military, RB Elijah Holyfield (5-11, 180 Fr.); QB Collin Pettell (6-4, 220 Jr.); OLB Montana Ogbu (6-0, 190 Sr.). Union County, LB Chase Barnett (5-7, 185 So.); WR Lalo Rivera (5-11, 180 Sr.); QB T Bentley (6-0, 190 Sr.).

Outlook: Bentley and Rivera are consistent scorers for the Union County offense, with Bentley passing for 719 yards and four touchdowns and rushing for 333 yards and three scores this season. Rivera is Bentley’s primary target with 247 yards and a touchdown on 21 receptions.

The Panthers defense is led by Barnett with 74 tackles and three for loss, Matthew Spiwak with 53 tackles and three for loss, and Clay Burnette with a pair of interceptions.

For Riverside, their progressing offense is led by Holyfield, who scored all three touchdowns for the Eagles in a loss to Rabun County last week.

Riverside beat Union County in the teams’ last two meetings, according the Georgia High School Football Historians Association.

Prediction: UNION COUNTY. The Panthers have the offensive and defensive weapons to defeat a Riverside team that is finally figuring out how to make its offense work.

Madison County at Lumpkin County

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: The Burial Grounds, Dahlonega

Coaches: Madison County, Chris Smith; Lumpkin County, Tommy Jones.

Records: Madison County (0-5, 0-2 Region 8-AAAA); Lumpkin County (1-4, 1-1)

Key players: Madison County, Xavier Duncan; T.J. Skelton; Garrison Harris. Lumpkin County, QB Daniel McCrary (6-1, 175 Jr.); WR/DB Jonathan Gilreath (Jr.); LB/TE Logan Head (6-2, 200 Sr.).

Outlook: The Indians’ offense has been steadily improving since Week 1. Gilreath and McCrary finally found a way to connect and help the team win 13-12 against Walnut Grove two weeks ago.

Gilreath has 234 yards on 20 receptions with two touchdowns and two interceptions, and McCrary is 59 for 110 with 583 yards and three scores. Mitchell Stephens has two interceptions for the team. The defense still struggles, but the offense is beginning to find ways to score points.

Madison County averages eight points per game, while Lumpkin County tallies an average of 8.8 points.

This is the first meeting in the history of the two schools.

Prediction: LUMPKIN COUNTY. The Indians have finally found their first win of the year and have had a week off to adjust and keep the momentum going.

Meadowcreek at Habersham Central

When: 7:30 tonight

Where: Raider Stadium, Mount Airy

Coaches: Habersham Central, Stuart Cunningham; Meadowcreek, Deario Grimmage

Records: Habersham Central (0-6, 0-4 Region 7-AAAAAA); Meadowcreek (0-5, 0-3)

Key players: Habersham Central, RB Sydnee Mulligan (5-11, 190 Jr.), LB Tucker Williams (So.), LB Gunner Hedden (So.).

Outlook: Habersham Central is still building on a core of young players, but sophomore linebackers Williams and Hedden show that the future may be bright for this Raider team even though this season is a struggle. Williams has 70 tackles so far, and Hedden has 58. Joining them on defense is Brandon Moore with 46 tackles.

The Habersham Central offense averages just 4.8 points per game, while Meadowcreek is able to churn out 8.5.

The Mustangs enter the game on a 43-game losing streak.

Prediction: HABERSHAM CENTRAL. The Raiders chalk up a region victory with an improving defense.

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